Man disembarks from vehicle, opens fire and flees scene, witnesses say ■ Israeli forces search for assailant ■ Hamas, Islamic Jihad praise ‘heroic’ attack ■ Israel seals off Ramallah
Two Israeli soldiers were killed and another soldier and a civilian woman were seriously wounded Thursday in a shooting in the West Bank, near the settlement of Ofra.
Israeli army spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, said a man disembarked from a vehicle on Route 60, opened fire and fled the scene.
Manelis added that soldiers are canvassing the area in search of several assailants as well as setting up checkpoints, and that the army has sealed off roads leading Ramallah.
One of the fatalities was identified as 20-year-old Staff Sgt. Yovel Mor Yosef, originally from Ashkelon. He served in the Netzah Yehuda Battalion in the Kfir Brigade and is survived by his parents and three sisters. The other fatality was identified as 19-year-old Sgt. Yosef Cohen, originally from Beit Shemesh.
The wounded, a male soldier and a woman, were treated by emergency services and evacuated to hospitals in Jerusalem for further treatment. The man suffered a gunshot wound to the head and is in severe condition, the hospital said. The woman’s condition remains serious but has stabilized, doctors said, adding that as of now, her life is no longer in danger.
Later on Thursday, the Israeli army reported two suspected car-ramming attacks in the West Bank, one near Ramallah and one near the settlement of Kochav Yaakov.
The IDF is focusing mostly on Ramallah in its search efforts. An abandoned vehicle has been located and the military is inspecting whether it was used by the shooters.
In addition, the Shin Bet security service is using its field agents and technological tools in its investigation in order to trace the shooters’ tracks and their escape route.
The defense establishment had no intelligence pointing to a planned terrorist attack. This is yet another shooting attack that the security forces did not manage to prevent.
“There was massive fire, bullet after bullet, but not in bursts,” said one witness, adding that the shooting lasted several seconds.
The deaths extend a violent week that began with a shooting outside a West Bank settlement on Sunday, resulting in the death of a baby who was delivered prematurely after the attack, and continued with the killing of two Palestinians wanted in that and another attack on Israelis in the West Bank.
The military’s West Bank Division is currently better staffed than usual due to the security situation, with 14 battalions in the West Bank alongside special units such as Duvdevan, border police’s Arab-speaking undercover counterterror unit and the police’s special anti-terror unit that has been working in the area in the past few days.
Habayit Hayehudi member and Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel along with MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) threatened to leave Netanyahu’s fragile coalition, calling for a meeting to discuss immediate security measures to protect West Bank residents.
At the same time, the regional councils of Mateh Binyamin, Samaria and Beit El called for a strike, demonstrating in front of the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem to demand that the government take additional steps against acts of terror. The local councils will close road in the West Bank in addition to demonstrations by dozens of people that already took place on Thursday near the Kerem Shalom junction off Route 60.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has condemned the latest round of violence in the West Bank, criticizing both militant attacks and the tough Israeli response.
Abbas’ office issued a statement on Thursday accusing Israel of creating a “climate” conducive to violence through its frequent military operations in Palestinian cities. Abbas also accused Israel of incitement against him.
His statement says that “the absence of the horizon of peace is what led to this series of violence, which we condemn and reject, and for which both sides pay a price.”
The statement also added: “Our permanent policy is to reject violence, incursions and terror of the settlers, and the need to stop incitement and not to create an atmosphere that contributes to the aggravation of the situation.”
U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman took to Twitter, condemning the attacks, asserting that the PA “maintains laws that will compensate these terrorists and their families for their heinous acts. The PA can be a political body OR a sponsor of terror, not both.”
A paramedic at the scene, Shalom Galil, said: “When we arrived at the location we saw four young people with gunshot wounds near the hitchhiking stop.” According to Galil, a man and a woman in their 20’s, were evacuated to the hospital in serious condition. Two others in critical were left at the scene and treated by Israeli army paramedics.
A senior Israeli army officer told Haaretz “Hamas is investing a lot of effort into establishing terror infrastructures and units for attack in the West Bank. We’re dealing with this in Hebron, Ramallah, Nablus and other places. We often succeed, but some events end harshly.”
“I don’t know to confirm nor refute” the possibility that members of the group involved in Thursday’s attack weren’t also part of the one that exacted the one on Sunday, Manelis said, referring to the incident as a “copycat” of the drive-by shooting near Ofra.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad praised the attack, with the former’s spokesman saying the organization welcomed “the heroic action which is a response to the crimes of the occupation and its behavior,” adding that “the youth of the West Bank will continue to fight.”
Hamas’ political wing chief Ismail Haniyeh said that “what happened today in the West Bank means the situation is starting to change and a new chapter has opened with the occupier through bloody resistance. The blood of Barghouthi and Na’alwa are a point of light for the next generations.”
Haniyeh was referring to Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti whom Israel sentenced to five consecutive life sentences for involvementin terror attacks and Ashraf Walid Saliman Na’alwa, who carried out the shooting attack in the Barkan industrial area in October.
On Wednesday night, Israeli troops shot a Palestinian man near the West Bank city of Ramallah as part of an ongoing manhunt for the assailants beind Sunday’s drive-by shooting near Ofra. The man later died of his wounds at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem.
The site of the incident is south of the settlement of Ofra, where six Israelis were wounded and a baby, who was delivered after his mother was shot in the attack, died.
On Wednesday, Israeli forces killed Salah Barghouti, a Palestinian suspect wanted in the drive-by shooting in a bus stop near Ofra.
Thursday’s shooting came hours after Israeli security forces tracked down and killed a Palestinian accused of killing two Israelis.
Early on Thursday, Israeli security forces said Ashraf Saliman Na’alwa was killed after he was located armed near the West Bank city of Nablus. Na’alwa was said to be behind the attack that took the lives of Kim Yehezkel-Levengrond and Ziv Hajbi on October.
The article was published in Haaretz